Peterson Institute publications
The Peterson Institute for International Economics is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan
research institution devoted to the study of international economic policy. More › ›
RSS News Feed Search

Policy Brief 08-6

North Korea on the Precipice of Famine

by Stephan Haggard, University of California, San Diego
and Marcus Noland, Peterson Institute for International Economics
and Erik Weeks, Peterson Institute

May 2008

View full document [pdf]


North Korea is on the brink of famine. The aggregate food picture appears worse than at any time since the famine of the 1990s. The margin of error between required grain and available supply is now less than 100,000 metric tons. Local food prices are skyrocketing faster than world prices. The regime has soured its aid relationships with key donors, and its control-oriented policy responses are exacerbating distress. Support for aid has been further eroded by evidence of diversion of food aid to the military and the market. Hunger-related deaths are nearly inevitable, and a dynamic is being put in place that will carry the crisis into 2009.

The long-run solution to North Korea’s chronic food insecurity problems is a revitalization of industry, which would allow North Korea to export industrial products, earn foreign exchange, and import bulk grains on a commercially sustainable basis. In the short run, North Korea should openly acknowledge the growing crisis and conclude negotiations with the World Food Program and other donors so that assistance can begin to flow. The United States can provide aid in ways that maximize its humanitarian impact while limiting the degree to which aid simply serves to bolster the regime. It should also exercise quiet leadership with respect to North Korean refugees.


RELATED LINKS

Book: Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea January 2011

Peterson Perspective: North Korea's Immunity to Outside Pressure: Part I December 12, 2012

Policy Brief 10-1: The Winter of Their Discontent: Pyongyang Attacks the Market January 2010

Working Paper 10-2: Economic Crime and Punishment in North Korea March 2010

Paper: FTAs and the Future of US-Korean Trade Relations November 2009

Paper: Implementing the KORUS FTA: Key Challenges and Policy Proposals February 2008

Policy Brief 07-7: The Korea-US Free Trade Agreement: A Summary Assessment August 2007

Policy Brief 06-4: Negotiating the Korea–United States Free Trade Agreement June 2006

Working Paper 07-7: North Korea’s External Economic Relations August 2007

Book: Avoiding the Apocalypse: The Future of the Two Koreas June 2000

Book: Free Trade Between Korea and the United States? April 2001

Working Paper 08-4: Migration Experiences of North Korean Refugees: Survey Evidence from China March 2008